The problem with international breaks is that they ruin the flow of the season. We spend so long looking forward to the big kick-off, and then just three games later watch in frustration as largely uncompetitive internationals take over. And, inevitably, result in injuries we could really do without.
Take tonight’s European Championship qualifiers. Twenty two games, and almost all were entirely predictable. Only two results raised eyebrows – Portugal’s 4-4 draw with Cyprus and France’s defeat at home to Belarus – but both nations have a myriad of issues that contributed to the failures. The fact is – there are now so many poor footballing nations in Europe (and so many nations full stop) that 80% of the matches are walkovers, ensuring that only a tiny fraction of games are appealing enough to retain our interest. The majority of the time we simply count down the days until the real football resumes. It is a sad indictment of the national game.
Of course, club football can be ugly too, most notably around the closing of the transfer window. Never mind that Wenger has tackled one of last season’s problems by bringing in a target man and a genuine aerial threat, or that we have genuine competition for places at centre back again. No, ignore all that – he didn’t pay over the odds for a 37 year old keeper that has never before attracted the attention of a top club, so he must be ruining our great club. Sack him, sack him now.
At least, that is the opinion of an ever growing number, fuelled into a frenzy by a series of hit-grabbing blogs (and, sadly, some mainstream newspapers fighting for a slice of the pie). Controversy sucks people in, leading many to the conclusion that an outlandish opinion is better than a sensible one. Balance is hard to come by.
My opinion? I’m disappointed that we didn’t sign a keeper, but then I was disappointed that Schwarzer was the extent of our ambition in the first place, as I don’t think he adds anything in terms of quality – all he would have been is a clean slate. The difficulty comes when attempting to name a keeper who wouldhave been an inspiring signing. Three names are bandied around at will – Lloris, Hart and Given. Do I really need to explain why all three are impossible recruits?
I understand the frustration of those who wanted a new number one, but what I cannot fathom is why some are suggesting our team is in ruins because Almunia will continue. Those writing off our chances clearly don’t look at our rivals – that they have weaknesses is an oft missed fact.
It is surely time to look forward. The Fabianski ‘trial’ in pre-season is over, and by comparison Almunia is playing like Gordon Banks. To be fair to Manuel, he has so far escaped the glut of goalkeeping errors that have littered the opening weeks of the season. Long may that continue.
Take a step back, and realise that our summer business has been pretty good overall. And we haven’t exactly started the season badly either.